Dereliction of Duties or the Politics of ‘Political Quadrangle’? The Governor, Hill Areas Committee and Upsurge in the Hills of Manipur

AuthorThongkholal Haokip
Date01 September 2017
Published date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Indian Journal of Public
63(3) 456–474
© 2017 IIPA
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0019556117720606
1 Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Thongkholal Haokip, Assistant Professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal
Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India.
Dereliction of Duties
or the Politics of
‘Political Quadrangle’?
The Governor, Hill Areas
Committee and Upsurge
in the Hills of Manipur
Thongkholal Haokip1
This article looks into the role of the Governor of Manipur, particularly its
‘special responsibility’ under Article 371C of the Constitution of India, ‘in order
to secure the proper functioning’ of the Hill Areas Committee (HAC), and
attempts to explore whether there is dereliction of duties on the part of the
governor in fulfilling what the constitution intents. Consequently, it examines
whether the HAC is able to perform its functions under the Manipur Legislative
Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972, to ‘safeguard the interest of
the people of the Hill Areas’. The article identifies the existence of the politics
of ‘political quadrangle’ which unleash a peculiar ‘political process’ in which the
role and functions of the governor and the HAC are constrained in protecting
the rights and interests of the hill people. This ‘politics’ is largely shaped by
the very peculiar political process in the state, particularly the electoral trend
and government formation, in which there is propensity to change government
with the corresponding change in the ruling party at the centre. This has a
significant role to play as the majoritarian state government’s reluctance for
tribal autonomy is perpetuated by the existence of the same political regime at
the centre, with a politically affiliated and politically appointed governor, in which
acting on the ‘advice of’ largely becomes ‘diktat of’ the ‘council of ministers’,
thereby circumscribing the role and functions of the governor and the HAC.
The recent upsurge in the hills of Manipur is a clear case of the state Legislative
Assembly overriding the HAC on scheduled matters that affect the hill areas.
Haokip 457
Manipur, governor, Hill Areas Committee, ‘Political Quadrangle’
Manipur is a geopolitical entity located in the far northeastern corner of the Indian
subcontinent. It has a neat geography of valley and hills, and distribution of people
based on this division. At the centre lies the valley, which is about 10 per cent of
the total geographical area, inhabited by the Meiteis and Meitei Pangals with a
history of two millennia. Along with them reside business groups who had
migrated in the last century. They constitute about 64.6 per cent of the total
population of the state.1 The valley is surrounded by hills populated by different
ethnic groups who are loosely categorised as Kukis and Nagas—while various
Kuki tribes mainly settle in the southern hills, the Nagas occupy the northern hills,
though not neatly distributed. They occupy about 90 per cent of the total
geographical area, with 35.4 per cent of the population. Giving the first account of
topography and the tribes of the then Manipur kingdom and its surrounding hills,
Pemberton (1835, p. 21) described in his report:
The territory comprised within the boundaries thus specied, occupies an area of
7,000 square miles, of which a valley of 650 miles of rich alluvial soil constitutes the
central portion; the remainder is formed by an encircling zone of hilly and mountainous
country inhabited by various tribes… [T]he southern boundary of the Muneepoor
Territory is very irregular and ill dened; unconquered tribes, of whose existence we
have but recently become acquainted.
What constitutes Manipur before the British rule is a matter of debate that contin-
ues to linger in the ethnic politics today. More than two decades after Pemberton
submitted his report on the eastern frontier, McCulloh (1980, p. 75), the then
political agent of Manipur, in his account of the valley of Manipur and of the hill
tribes wrote:
Before the connection of the British Government with that of Manipur took place, the
latter, not to speak of exerting inuence over the tribes, was unable to protect the inhab-
itants of the valley from their exaction of blackmail, and even after the conclusion of
peace with Burma, and the xation of a boundary for Manipur, the majority of the tribes
were independent, and known to us little more than by name.
This independent kingdom of Manipur was conquered by the British after the
Khongjom Battle in April 1891, and the surrounding hills were incorporated after
the Anglo-Kuki War, 1917–1919. After the defeat of the Kukis in the so-called
Kuki rebellion, the British brought about tighter administrative control and as
such ‘the hill people were for the first time brought under intensified political and
administrative control of an imperial power’ (Dena, 1991, p. 134). Subsequently,
Manipur was divided into four subdivisions—one with headquarters at Imphal
and three in the hills under a sub-divisional officer (SDO) each, namely for the

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